Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) wooed his wife Deborah (Winona Ryder) for a time before they were married, convinced she was the only one for him. Telling her he dubbed Disney cartoons for a living, she was charmed by his taciturn ways, but she might not have been so enamoured if she had known what he was really like, as for example once after leaving her to return home from an evening out he was betting on a pool game with a gangster type when he was lambasted for dating a woman who wanted to wait until she was married before she had sex. The result? Richard cut his throat.
That's because Mr Kuklinski was not a nice man, he was a real person and this movie purported to tell his life story, except that if you knew a little, or most pertinently if you knew a lot, about what he was really getting up to you would find his outrageous claims that director Ariel Vroman apparently took for granted somewhat suspect. The big factoid people know about the man, if they knew anything at all, was that he confessed to murdering over a hundred people, a figure which has been called into question many times, with some suggesting the number was more like ten, so there was no doubt he really did kill.
It's just that he seems to have been, amongst other things, a fantasist who was more intent in building up his own reputation as a badass than sticking to the facts once he was caught. The bulk of The Iceman was concerned with his life running up to that point, as we were intended to contrast his existence as a loving family man with his other life, kept from that family, as a cold-blooded hitman, taking in most of the nineteen-seventies to reveal where he went wrong. The trouble with this is Vroman and his team were more wrapped up in establishing a nasty personality who didn't appear to have done much of note aside from the murders so that he would essentially be movie star material.
When that movie star was Michael Shannon then at least you knew you were going to see someone well-cast as a character who had long ago given into their darker side, and he emerged as the best thing about the film, though even in Kuklinski's quieter moments he came across like a barely reined in psychopath, ready to explode at any moment, which made it all the less likely Deborah and their two daughters would not have suspected a thing about his double life. Another rankle is that with all the male cast members sporting various arrangements of facial hair by way of setting the picture in a historical context, they all began to look pretty much the same after a while, leaving the intricacies of the plots and schemes rather neglected.
Also showing up were Ray Liotta as a gang boss who inducts Kuklinski into his life of crime, Chris Evans as the man who became his partner after a fashion and the worst offender in the "hairiness denotes the seventies" stakes, and erstwhile sitcom star David Schwimmer as another coldblooded killer who uses the boss's name to advance in the underworld; he's not bad, but it does smack of stunt casting to see him off drug dealers with close range gunshots. James Franco, who was formerly to have taken the Evans role, was given a one scene cameo as yet another victim, and he just had to be making his own amateur porn right before Kuklinski appears, didn't he? The main issue here was there could be a very interesting yarn to spin about a low level hoodlum who tried to boast his way into the crime history books - he even claimed to have assassinated Jimmy Hoffa! - but the movie falls for his supposed outlaw glamour hook, line and sinker when he really doesn't come across as worth the fuss. Music by Haim Mazar.